Brand Moves for Thursday July 16

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Twenty weeks ago, when the gravity of the situation became clear, we started daily reporting on how brands were dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. What’s now becoming clear is that the current climate is one of near-perpetual disruption. So we made the decision to keep on telling the stories of inspiring brand leadership and strategy amid the latest crises in an anxious world. Our goal remains the same: to provide an up-to-the-minute source of information, inspiration and insight on brand moves as they happen.

The world’s largest retail trade association, the US National Retail Federation, issued a statement today encouraging retailers nationwide to enforce mask-wearing requirements in their stores during the coronavirus pandemic. The NRF specifically mentioned it was proud of the leadership of companies like Walmart for announcing it will bar people without face coverings from entering more than 5,400 of its store locations, including Sam’s Club. The NRF called the policy, which goes into effect on July 20, a “tipping point in this public health debate.” Other regional and nationwide retailers that have implemented strict mask rules in all of their store locations include American Eagle, Apple, AT&T, Best Buy, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco, Dollar Tree, H-E-B, Menards, Ralphs, Smart & Final, The Fresh Market and Verizon. “Workers serving customers should not have to make a critical decision as to whether they should risk exposure to infection or lose their jobs because a minority of people refuse to wear masks in order to help stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus,” the NRF said in its statement.

A new initiative from Microsoft and farming cooperative Land O’Lakes aims to tackle the issue of the digital divide between those who can access the internet at home and those who can’t, by bringing broadband and other services, such as free WiFi and digital skills training, to rural communities in the 19 states where Land O’Lakes has farms. Especially in rural areas of the country, many lack access to broadband internet, so have struggled to participate in the remote learning, working and health care that have allowed others to adapt during the crisis. “If you think about the rural community today, they are going to thrive if the entire community is able to get the education, the upskilling, the health and… ecommerce and other facilities directly reaching them where they are,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said. “That’s why broadband is such a fundamental right.” It’s a major gap to fill. Nearly 15% of American households do not have a home internet subscription, according to US Census estimates from 2018. For low-income earners, that percentage is more than double the national average. The effort is part of a larger partnership that also includes deploying Microsoft technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud and internet of things (IOT) on Land O’Lakes farms, which will give farmers access to real-time data to make key decisions and help them advance sustainable agriculture practices. Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford said deploying such new innovations on farms – and ensuring that the benefits reach entire farming communities – is more than a matter of convenience. “Vibrancy of our rural communities in partnership with a safe, affordable food supply and then creating jobs is critical. It’s a national security issue,” Ford said. “Technology is an enabler, for example, to close the healthcare gap… It is critical for the stabilization and the vibrancy of these communities that are critical to the United States and to our farm system and our food system.”

Dolce & Gabbana has become the first major fashion house to revive the physical catwalk show. Its menswear event was staged in the grounds of Milan’s Humanitas University, where research into a coronavirus vaccine is currently taking place. The 260 guests were asked to keep a 1-metre distance from fellow show-goers, wear a mask at all times, and warned that if their bodily temperature exceeded 37C on arrival, they would be refused access. “We can’t imagine a fashion world without live shows; designers, journalists, buyers and all of us need them,” Domenico Dolce said. “Slowly we have to start over, totally respecting the safety regulations in force. To us the live fashion show is fundamental, it’s part of the dream.” Backstage, usually open to the press, was closed with hair and makeup artists wearing face masks and shields. Attendees, a mix of editors, clients and celebrities, mostly – but not all – wore face coverings during the show while models removed their masks for the catwalk. In March, Dolce and his designer partner Stefano Gabbana made a substantial donation to support Humanitas University’s research program, aimed at clarifying the immune system’s responses to Covid-19. Alberto Mantovani, the institution’s scientific director, said that “four months later, the programme has contributed to the greater knowledge of the disease”.

UK train companies are hoping to encourage commuters back on to public transport with a “travel safe this summer” campaign, with increased emphasis on handwashing and face masks, which have been compulsory on public transport since 15 June. The shift would be a first step in boosting use of public transport. Transport for London is running 94% of its services, but with passenger numbers at only about 20% of the levels at the same point in 2019. Although a majority of UK workers travel to work by car or van, restrictions on public transport are seen as one of the main obstacles for many workers returning to offices in cities, and London in particular. Increasing car travel is not thought to be viable in cities because of congestion, as well as the likelihood of increased carbon dioxide emissions. Andy Bagnall, chief strategy officer at the Rail Delivery Group, representing UK train companies, said: “Rail companies want to support the government in striking the difficult balance between reopening the economy, which of course means more rail travel, and guarding against a further widespread outbreak of the virus. As the economy reopens this summer that means reassuring people so they have confidence to travel safely while adhering to government advice. Train operators are maximising capacity, boosting cleaning and helping with hygiene while also asking passengers to travel at quieter times where they can and to protect others by wearing a face covering.”

Media company The Atlantic wants a million people to “attend” its September festival this year, up from the 2,000 in-person attendees it normally attracts. The in-person version of The Atlantic Festival spanned three days with four to five hours of main stage content each day. This year, the “main stage” has been relegated to a 90-minute block of evening programming that will be live streamed to audiences on its site and via other platforms over the four nights of September 21 through 24. During the days, smaller forums and panels will take place as well. In past years, The Atlantic Festival capped its audience to 2,000 to 3,000 due to space limitations. This year, scale is the goal. The Atlantic’s annual September festival is the brand’s largest event of the year, accounting for approximately a third of the company’s overall events revenue, according to COO Aretae Wyler. Not wanting to lose out on the content, audience or revenue, the publisher is following suit with many others and turning the festival virtual. Its events team, however, is now 80% smaller than it was two months ago. Last year, The Atlantic produced more than 100 events. Since going remote, it has put on 20, and Wyler said she anticipates that her team will eventually get to the point of having one virtual event per week. Some have been sponsored, but others were solely editorial products. The virtual events that the brand has held so far are bringing in roughly five to 10 times the number of attendees that they would in-person. While an in-person forum event might have had 50 to 150 in attendance, depending on the venue size, Wyler said the virtual events have on average had 750 to 1,000 registrants.

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